Bioethics Blogs

If no travel restrictions, then….quarantine?

As the Ebola epidemic rages on, the debate about travel limitations has moved inevitably to the next stage: whether there ought to be a quarantine imposed on healthcare providers and others returning from service in endemic areas. We have been reading two opposing views, one emphasizing, as did Governor Christie of New Jersey, that “the obligation of elected officials is to protect the public health of all the people,” and the other warning of the “disincentive” and “stigma” that would affect those healthcare professionals who might volunteer in West Africa.

The fear of stigma remains a curious phenomenon. It is plainly obvious by now that healthcare workers caring for Ebola patients are the most likely Americans to catch the disease. I propose that their free and unquarantined movement through society would not make them suddenly immune to stigma. If science and its facts are to guide our decisions, we must not shirk from finding all facts that are relevant to the decision at hand. For example, key to such a decision would be to find out how likely it would be that healthcare workers would change their mind about serving in the Ebola epidemic if they knew that they’d face a 21-day quarantine afterwards. I won’t claim to know the answer, but nobody else knows it either. If “science” is to be our guide, then we ought to do the research and not speculate. One could easily posit that healthcare workers would be encouraged by having the confidence that they would return to accommodations that would ensure that the risk that they would transmit a deadly disease to loved ones was zero.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.